In 2008, the single most publicized element of NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s PlaNYC – an $8 Congestion Pricing cordon around Manhattan – met an abrupt and ignoble death in the legislative hospice known as Albany. It was a sound plan technically, but politically, there were problems.
Chief among these were cries of inequity from the outer boroughs who felt that ‘walling off’ downtown with an $8 fee was “elitist”. Unlike the iconic East River bridges, the bridges connecting further-flung areas of the city have some pretty hefty tolls already.
These folks were not down with being asked to pay another $8 to cross onto the precious island of Manhattan, despite the fact that none of them drove there anyway, and their dutiful elected representatives in City Council and Albany obeyed.
OK. Move forward to 2014. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, who everyone hates in a good year, is still strapped for cash. Transit is suffering. The city and state each claim they’re too broke to fund basic maintenance, let alone expansion and improvements. Everyone kvetching. Sounds familiar.
Enter the Move NY Plan. It’s about as catchy as PlaNYC, but with some lessons learned in optics and equity. The plan still calls for a congestion pricing cordon south of 60th Street in Manhattan, but spreads the load with variable-rate pricing and more importantly, reducing tolls to the outer borough bridges. Despite the reduction in these tolls, it is a net gain in revenue of over $1.2B per year, which could be used to further bond up to $15B in projects.
In addition to outlining where the money is coming from, the plan sponsors have been equally clear about where the money is going to. This includes plans to address under-served areas in those same outer borough areas that will see their bridge tolls reduced.
Some of these are extensions of existing BRT routes, but larger ticket items such as the Triboro commuter rail line and Utica Avenue subway line, too. Without this plan, these big-push projects are nothing more than lines on a piece of paper. A gleam in a blogger’s eye.
Which gets me thinking about objections to road pricing to help fund Translink. Clearly none of us pay enough in taxes to fund our road network. If we did, there’d be no toll on the Port Mann. If we all paid enough, the province would have simply bought it outright. But they didn’t have the money, so they put the bridge on layaway. The imminent Massey Bridge is no different.
These bridges’ tolls are essential to reimbursing the cost of their construction, plus interest. In order to guarantee against the same toll-avoidance behaviour that goes on with the Port Mann and Patullo bridges, would the province be willing to place tolls on more or all of its bridges – in a more equitable manner – so that everyone pays a little rather than only a few paying more?
There’s certainly a compelling case against this, mainly that some of these bridges have already been tolled and paid for. But thinking regionally, could this be worked to the province’s advantage? The region gets a windfall of transit funding and the province gets some guarantee that its $4B bridge will actually be paid off on schedule.
Lastly, I’m curious to know what ‘blue sky’ projects PT readers would promote with, say, an extra $500M/year in transit funding. There are the obvious ones (Surrey Light Rail, Broadway skytrain/underground extension, etc.). But what other big, exciting projects further on the horizon? If equitable tolls and/or road pricing becomes a reality, what are we looking to plan for and build in 2026?